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Israel, ‘Palestine’ And ‘Correlation Of Forces’ In The Middle East


Beres-Louis-Rene

War is never far from the minds of prudent Israelis, and prudent operational planning must always look closely at the regional “correlation of forces.” Drawn from the military lexicon of the former Soviet Union, this concept is usefully applied as a particular measure of armed forces, from the subunit level to major formations. Additionally, it has been used to compare resources and capabilities on both the levels of military strategy and of so-called “grand strategy.” This meaning is closely related to the concept of “force ratios” used more commonly in Western armies.

Today, with renewed preparations for a Middle East “peace” that would include a Palestinian state, Israel must undertake prompt assessments of enemy states with particular reference to the “correlation of forces.” Here it must seek more than an “objective” yardstick for measurement of opposing forces. Although the IDF is assuredly comparing all available data concerning both the quantitative and qualitative characteristics of units, including personnel, weaponry and equipment, its commanders will need to know more to establish Israeli force superiority at decisive places and times. This is especially the case in matters of grand strategy, where opposing forces could soon be endowed with genuine weapons of mass destruction.

What, exactly, should be the IDF concept of “correlation of forces?” First, it must take careful account of enemy leaders’ intentions as well as capabilities. Such an accounting is inherently more subjective than assessments of personnel, weapons and basic logistic data. Such an accounting must be subtle and nuanced, relying less on scientific modeling than upon carefully informed profiles. In this connection, it will not do to merely gather relevant data from all of the usual sources. It will also be important to put Israeli strategists into the shoes of each enemy leader, determining what Israel looks like to them.

Second, the IDF correlation of forces concept must take account of enemy leaders’ rationality. An adversary that does not conform to the rules of rational behavior in world politics might not be deterred by any Israeli threats, military or otherwise. Here the logic of deterrence would be immobilized and all bets would be off concerning expected enemy reactions to Israeli policy. This point now pertains especially to growing existential threats from Iran. There, if the Islamic regime is permitted to complete its still planned nuclearization without preemptive interference, Israel could find itself face-to-face with a suicide bomber in macrocosm.

Third, IDF assessments must also consider the organization of enemy state units; their training standards; their morale; their reconnaissance capabilities; their battle experience; and their suitability and adaptability to the prospective battlefield. These assessments are not exceedingly difficult to make on an individual or piecemeal basis, but the Ministry of Defense needs to conceptualize them together, in their entirety. To get this more coherent picture will require creativity and imagination, not merely the more ordinary analytical skills.

Fourth, IDF assessments must consider the capabilities and intentions of Israel’s nonstate enemies; that is, the entire configuration of anti-Israel terrorist groups. And once again, such assessments must offer more than a group by group consideration. Rather, the groups must be considered in their entirety, as they interrelate with one another vis-a-vis Israel. And these groups need to be considered in their interactive relationship with enemy states. This last point might best be characterized as an IDF search for pertinent “synergies” between state and nonstate adversaries.

Fifth, IDF assessments must take special note of the ongoing metamorphosis of a nonstate adversary (PLO) into a state adversary (Palestine). With this metamorphosis, Israel’s strategic depth will shrink to less manageable levels, and a far-reaching enemy momentum to transform Israel itself into part of the new Arab state will be energized. How shall Israel “live” with Palestine? In one respect, the codified institutionalization of disparate enemies into “Palestine” will actually provide some geostrategic benefit to Israel (now reprisal and retaliation will likely be easier and more purposeful), yet there will also be a corresponding and consequential loss of vital territories.

In the matter of synergies, the IDF must also consider and look for “force multipliers.” A force multiplier is a collection of related characteristics, other than weapons and force size, that make a military organization more effective in combat. A force multiplier may be generalship; tactical surprise; tactical mobility; command and control system; etc. The presence of a force multiplier creates synergy. The unit will be more effective than the mere sum of its weapons. IDF responsibility in this area concerns (1) recognizing enemy force multipliers; (2) challenging and undermining enemy force multipliers; and (3) developing and refining its own force multipliers. Regarding number (3), this means a heavy IDF emphasis on air superiority; communications; intelligence; and surprise. It may also mean a heightened awareness of the benefits of sometimes appearing less than completely rational to one’s enemies. This last point is especially important, and warrants serious and immediate study.

Correlation of forces will essentially determine the outcome of the next Middle Eastern war. It is time for Israel to go well beyond the more usual numerical assessments to “softer” considerations, and to focus especially upon the cumulative importance of unconventional weapons and low-intensity warfare in the region. A key dilemma in this focus will be the understanding that, in certain circumstances, preemption is both indispensable and infeasible, and that any suitable expression of “anticipatory self-defense” will require skillful and authoritative clarifications.

Copyright (c) The Jewish Press, 2005. All rights reserved.

LOUIS RENE BERES was educated at Princeton (Ph.D., 1971) and is the author of many publications dealing with Middle Eastern security issues. Strategic and Military Affairs columnist for THE JEWISH PRESS, he is Chair of “Project Daniel,” a private group advising Israel’s Prime Minister on nuclear strategy matters.

About the Author: Louis René Beres (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971) is professor of political science and international law at Purdue University and the author of many books and articles dealing with international relations and strategic studies.


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